“I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty.” —Samuel Goldwyn, American movie mogul.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, loyalty is as loyalty does. In recent years, some business leaders have bemoaned the death of old-fashioned employee loyalty, as workers realize that technology has freed them from some workplace restraints. Many have also decided they can get farther faster by jumping from one company to another, rather than by working their way through the hierarchy of one organization.
This is unfortunate, but it represents a natural evolution of the workplace. Conditions have changed drastically in the past several decades. Given global competition, the lingering Great Recession, and shareholder demands for greater value, most companies can no longer guarantee lifelong employment or provide traditional pensions. The loyalty guarantees workers once took for granted no longer exist…so it should come as no real surprise that many workers feel their leadership has no loyalty to them. In an environment like that, why should they feel loyal toward the company?
The New Paradigm
That said, employee loyalty need not be a thing of the past. No one really expects lifelong loyalty anymore, but you can certainly increase team loyalty to levels not seen for years if you’ll make just a few adjustments to the way you do business.
1. Treat your people with trust and respect. Your chief aim should be to make your team’s work easier, by clearing the way toward your organization and team goals. Respect your people by making those goals very clear, and show them you’re working as hard as they are. Don’t look down on your team members or dismiss their concerns, and give them the training and advice they need to do their jobs well. Shared respect has many routes, and you have to police them all.
2. Strive for consistency. Your people need to know they can predict your behavior, at least to some extent, and that you’ll treat everyone the same way no matter what. If they feel they can’t understand you, then how can they trust you? So when you make a promise, fulfill it. Follow through with your commitments. If a specific achievement earns someone an award, make sure everyone who captures that achievement gets the award. Display consistency with word and deed, and expect the same of your people. They will respect you for it.
3. Empower your workers. Give them the opportunity to own their jobs. If your team members can function without excess interference or overly-punitive responses to their mistakes, they’ll stay with you longer. Give them room to breathe, and let them take the initiative to improve their own output. They may surprise you by what they accomplish—and they’ll certainly find it easier to execute your strategy at a moment’s notice, especially if they don’t have to ask your permission first.
4. Lead. Your leadership position gives you the ability to shape other people’s lives by example. You can be sure your workers watch you constantly, so they’ll know if you ignore your own rules for working hours and leaving early. If you roll in half an hour late every day, spend two hours at lunch, and leave to play golf each Thursday promptly at two, you’ll lose their respect and worse, their loyalty. Leadership means more than just ordering people around; it means guidance, in everything from coaching to living up to your promises.
Accept the fact that business life has irrevocably changed due to technological and sociological evolution. No matter where you work or what you do, people will leave more regularly than you would like, and you’ll often be forced to bring new team members up to speed. Even innovative companies like Amazon and Google have surprisingly high turnover rates. You can’t hold onto people like your predecessors did decades ago, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. While money and position mean a great deal to employees, so do simple things like trust, compassion, respect, empowerment, good communications, and solid leadership.